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The Catholic church in this country has fought against the death penalty for decades. Pope St. John Paul II amended the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church to include a de facto prohibition against capital punishment. Last year, Pope Francis called on all Catholics “to fight … for the abolition of the death penalty.” The practice is abhorrent and unnecessary. It is also insanely expensive as court battles soak up resources better deployed in preventing crime in the first place and working toward restorative justice for those who commit less heinous crimes.
Admirably, Florida has halted executions until the Supreme Court rules, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich has postponed all seven executions in the state scheduled for 2015 pending further study. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty until he has received and reviewed a task force’s report on capital punishment, which he called “a flawed system … ineffective, unjust, and expensive.” Both governors also cited the growing number of death row inmates who have been exonerated nationwide in recent years.
In a statement thanking Wolf, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said: “Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. … But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living. When we take a guilty person’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture and we demean our own dignity in the process.”
Archbishop Chaput reminds us that when considering the death penalty, we cannot forget that it is we, acting through our government, who are the moral agents in an execution. The prisoner has committed his crime and has answered for it in this life just as he shall answer for it before God. But it is the government, acting in our name, that orders and perpetrates lethal injection. It is we who add to, instead of heal, the violence.
Advocates of the death penalty often claim that it brings closure to a victim’s family. But advocates who walk with the families of victims, like Mercy Sister Camille D’Arienzo, tell a different story.
“I think of mothers who attend our annual service for Families and Friends of Murder Victims,” a program the Mercy sisters have sponsored for 18 years. “Asked what they want for their children’s killers, no one asks for the death penalty,” she said. “Their reason: ‘I wouldn’t want another mother to suffer what I have suffered.’ Their hearts, though broken, are undivided in their humanity.”
The facts of the case in Oklahoma — which echo reports from Ohio and Arizona — were especially egregious. Last April, the drug protocol failed in the execution of Clayton Lockett. Lockett moaned in pain before authorities suspended the execution; he would die of a heart attack later that night. Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said at the time, “The execution of Clayton Lockett really highlights the brutality of the death penalty, and I hope it leads us to consider whether we should adopt a moratorium on the death penalty or even abolish it altogether.”
The Supreme Court has agreed with Archbishop Coakley and will consider the issue. We join our bishops in hoping the court will reach the conclusion that it is time for our nation to embody its commitment to the right to life by abolishing the death penalty once and for all.
by Ray Duckler, Concord Monitor, Friday January 16, 2015
(Link to original)
Margaret Hawthorn of Rindge, who lost her daughter to homicide in 2010, stands outside the New Hampshire Supreme Court during the half hour silent vigil Thursday.
Sometimes, a half-hour of silence says a lot.
Take yesterday, for example, in front of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. No one said a word from 8:45 to 9:15 a.m., yet the voices were loud and clear, varied in their reasoning, common in their goal.
Some members of the New Hampshire Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty believe execution solves nothing. Others worry about state hypocrisy, that killing killers is wrong. Still others use the mercy rule, the one about forgiveness and spiritual growth, the one about loving thy neighbor, even if that neighbor has killed a husband and father, in this case, a cop.
They gathered outside, 22 of them, in nose-running cold and held their silent vigil, trying to bring attention to the hearing inside. There, a fireplace roared like a postcard and the state’s highest court heard testimony in Michael Addison’s appeal.
Addison killed Officer Michael Briggs in a dark Manchester alley Oct. 16, 2006. Briggs, then 35, had approached Addison, a suspect in a recent crime spree. Addison shot once, hitting Briggs in the head.
Addison has since been convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die, the state’s first death sentence in more than 50 years. New Hampshire’s last execution happened in 1939.
We knew the appeals process and the protests and the differing points of view would surface after the trial, and that’s precisely what’s happened.
The justices upheld Addison’s conviction in 2013. Now comes the part about proportionality, the word of the day in court yesterday. The justices must measure the fairness of Addison’s sentence when compared with the reasoning behind other death sentences across the country.
To those I spoke to, though, comparisons were a waste of time, because this punishment should never be carried out, here, there, or anywhere.
“The loss of Officer Briggs was horrible, but execution does not make it any better,” said John Tobin, the executive director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance.
Tobin is part of the unmistakable irony connected to this issue, a victim of violent crime who, more than anybody, would be expected to seek revenge, but who, instead, pushes hard the other way.
Tobin’s sister was murdered during a robbery more than 30 years ago in South Africa. The man convicted was put to death, yet there was Tobin, shivering outside, relaying a message, showing compassion.
“The execution didn’t make me feel any better,” Tobin said.
Margaret Hawthorn of Rindge was there too, holding a sign that read, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
Hawthorn’s daughter, Molly Hawthorn-MacDougall, was shot and killed during a home invasion in Henniker in 2010. The killer, a Haitian immigrant who told a fellow inmate that he went to the home to rape Molly, was sentenced to 42 years.
Molly was nearing a degree in nursing. Her father, Bruce MacDougall, told me by phone that she loved gardening, studied pottery in Japan and sang a lot.
Margaret, meanwhile, lobbied lawmakers to repeal the death penalty after her daughter’s death. She failed, but she’s still trying.
“We all come about it from different places, but this has to do with respecting human life,” Hawthorn told me. “Knowing this from the day she died, I made a statement to the press that we would not turn to hatred or make room for vengeance. It’s self protective more than anything else. If we allowed that to find room in our hearts, we would be in a place we never could get out of emotionally.
“Vengeance is never sweet,” Hawthorn continued. “It always has a way of kicking you in the teeth, so don’t go there.”
While people like Hawthorn and Tobin shared their tragic stories outside, Andru Volinksy, a fellow coalition member and commercial litigator, sat inside, in the third row, showing support for the defense team of David Rothstein and Chris Johnson as they tried to save Addison’s life.
Reached by phone before the hearing, Volinsky told me that the attorney general at the time of the Addison trial, Kelly Ayotte, failed to show that Addison had intentionally killed Briggs, nor did she show that Addison would be a danger while incarcerated.
“And we’re going to kill him nonetheless?” Volinksy asked.
He cited the arbitrary and discriminatory nature of Addison’s sentence. Why did John Brooks of Derry get a life sentence for his murder-for-hire conviction in 2008? Why not death, like Addison got?
“It’s clear the middle-age wealthy white male who was prosecuted for capital murder at that same time got life,” Volinsky said. “He hired a contract killer. The defendant’s wealth and race should not be factors.”
Volinsky also mentioned his moral beliefs, that the state has no business killing someone in the name of justice. That served as the vigil’s main message as well.
Coalition members stood in two lines, perpendicular from one another, holding signs that read, “Execute justice, not people,” and “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong,” and “An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.”
They held their signs and stood in silence, and when the half-hour ended, they formed a circle and introduced themselves.
Minutes later, Hawthorn and Tobin, two victims, met for the first time.
“I have found the most peace while doing this,” Hawthorn said.
“I know what you mean,” was all Tobin said, on a day of very few words.
By Stephen Saloom
As his term ends, Gov. Perry’s legacy will be greatly debated. His supporters will say he was a great conservative, upholder of morality and master of political control. His detractors will examine the other sides of those coins. There is room for great debate.
One thing, however, cannot be debated. Perry wrongly affirmed Texas’ killing of an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham.
What’s worse is that when evidence of his error emerged from various corners, he ignored it – and at times, actively sought to suppress it.
As we consider Perry’s legacy, and his qualities as a candidate for higher office, this major element of his tenure must be considered.
The wrongful conviction and execution of Willingham began with a fire that broke out while he and his little girls were asleep. He woke up amidst flames and ran out — then realized that his three little girls were trapped inside. They died.
Arson investigators concluded that the fire had been set. A jailhouse informant said Willingham confided that he intentionally killed his children. Willingham’s defense lawyer was unable — and potentially even uninterested — to meet the challenge.
Willingham was convicted and sentenced to death.
Appellate courts found no legal errors. Before the execution date, however, the Willingham family learned of scientific evidence disproving the arson evidence and directed this new evidence to the Governor. He heads the clemency process, which is meant to be the fail-safe against such injustices.
The Willinghams sought a temporary reprieve from the execution. It was based on the report of one of the world’s top fire scientists (a Texan, no less), which explained why the arson evidence used was completely unreliable. The Willinghams informed Perry’s staff about the report and their impending request for a temporary reprieve to enable close scrutiny of that now-questioned evidence.
Perry received the expert with plenty of time and justification to grant a temporary reprieve — but he chose not to. Willingham was executed.
Public questions began to arise. There was a comparison of the Texas court’s handling of Willingham’s arson/murder conviction versus that of Ernest Willis, who had been convicted and sentenced to death in an arson case strikingly similar to that of Willingham. In Willis’ case, however, when the prosecutor learned of the new arson science, he moved to vacate the conviction. Because that evidence was recognized in his case, Willis was declared innocent and lives today.
The radically different dispositions in these similar arson cases gave rise to a review by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which, in light of today’s science, found it “untenable” to support arson findings based on such evidence.
In fact, the Texas Fire Marshal is now investigating past arson cases, and Attorney General Greg Abbott affirmed their propriety. On a related note, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently affirmed the Texas Legislature’s new law, which allows courts to reconsider discredited forensic evidence.
The arson evidence against Willingham was undeniably misleading. The only other “evidence” of Willingham’s guilt was jailhouse snitch testimony. The informant has now – again – said that his evidence was a lie, offered only because he had been (secretly) promised leniency. Prosecutorial misconduct has now been claimed.
Mr. Willingham’s innocence has now been well established. Since Mr. Willingham has already been executed, however, it is not the courts but Perry — and the Board of Pardons and Paroles he politically controls — who have the unique power to clear his name.
When presented with an application for that pardon, however, Perry refused to accept a visit from the surviving family members, who have politely but steadfastly sought justice for decades. Perry’s board’s denial of pardon was unexplained, yet conveniently spared him from having to act on it.
As his tenure came to a close, Perry had a clear opportunity to enable the pardon of Willingham. Instead he spun on his heel and walked away, refusing to acknowledge in any way his government’s terrible wrong.
Perry claims to be a conservative, religious and moral leader. As we consider his legacy, however, and his potential fitness for higher office, we must soberly assess his role in this injustice that he uniquely perpetuated.
Saloom is former policy director at the Innocence Project.
Originally published 1/3/15 in the Austin American-Stateseman
Former NH Attorney General speaks powerfully — both personally and professionally — about why he came around to oppose the death penalty. From NHCADP’s 10.10.2014 World Day Against the Death Penalty event, Concord NH:
Lincoln Caplan, visiting professor at Yale Law School and former member of the NYTimes editorial board, speaks at our World Day event about “The Death Penalty v. The Constitution.”
#nodeathpenalty — a few photos from the event (click for larger images)
Share a Selfie for Abolition!
Challenge your friends for World Day Against the Death Penalty (this Friday, October 10)!
Take a photo of yourself or a selfie holding a sign telling us why you are against the death penalty
- The sign should begin with “I stand against the death penalty because…” then it is up to you to finish the message or download and print one of our suggested signs below
- Upload the photo to your favorite social network with the hashtag #nodeathpenalty:
- Facebook (tip: set your privacy setting for the photo to ‘public’ for maximum exposure)
- Twitter (include @NHCADP in your tweet)
- Tag at least 3 of your friends and challenge them to do the same. You can preface this challenge with the following, “In recognition of the World Day Against the Death Penalty on 10 October I am nominating… [tag your friends here] to tell the world why you stand against the death penalty”
- Send your selfie as an attachment to Info@nodeathpenaltynh.org to be included on our website Rotating Banner
- The best 20 entries from around the world will be featured in the World Coalition’s World Day Report 2014 distributed in more than 50 countries around the world. See www.worldcoalition.org.
DOWNLOAD SIGNS — ALL FILES ARE PDFs